Marshfield Clinic Health System plans to build Eau Claire’s third hospital, but the leader of another hospital that has worked closely with the clinic’s physicians doesn’t think the facility is necessary.

“I think the initial reaction (by some) will be, ‘Do we really need another hospital, and are you going to be able to lower the cost of care?’ ” said Scott Polenz, Marshfield Clinic’s West Division administrator. “That’s why we’re doing it. The success of this hospital is going to be lowering the cost of care (over time), and I think the community is going to embrace that ...”

Drs. Narayana Murali and Susan Turney said Friday that building a hospital with an attached cancer center in Eau Claire would allow Marshfield Clinic to maximize efficiencies and start reducing patient costs while providing even higher quality care and additional jobs.

“We’ve essentially had two legs of a three-legged stool in the Chippewa Valley — world-class outpatient care at multiple local facilities, along with insurance through Security Health Plan of Wisconsin,” said Turney, Marshfield Clinic Health System’s CEO. “Adding inpatient care with our own modern hospital with connected cancer care services gives us the third leg and puts us in an excellent position to make a real difference on care levels and cost for patients in the region.”

Polenz agreed.

“We’re lucky in this community to have very good health care,” said Polenz, noting HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital and Mayo Clinic Health System operate hospitals in Eau Claire, OakLeaf Surgical Hospital is in Altoona, and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital is in Chippewa Falls. But, his employer wants to improve it even more by lowering the cost to patients.

Julie Manas, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital’s president and CEO, believes a fifth hospital in the Chippewa Valley is unnecessary.

“We do not believe additional inpatient beds are needed in our community and therefore do not support this proposed project,” she said in a statement. 

Marshfield Clinic’s announcement of its “Caring for the Chippewa Valley” plan Friday came roughly nine months after it dropped plans to do the same with Wausau-based Aspirus Network.

In early 2015, Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus announced plans for a new state-of-the-art hospital in Eau Claire. However, the deal fell through.

“There was a slight misalignment in terms of our interests,” said Murali, Marshfield Clinic’s chief clinical strategy officer. But Marshfield Clinic Health System is ready to move forward with the most recent plan. 

“We are very excited (to go forward),” he said Friday. “We’ve been in the Chippewa Valley for almost a quarter-century, and we wanted to have our facility closer to our physicians.”

Plaza Hotel would be razed

Marshfield Clinic, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, plans to build the hospital at 1202 W. Clairemont Ave., the current site of The Plaza Hotel & Suites, just down the street from Sacred Heart. The hotel will continue to operate through December. The hotel, owned by Mike Rivers of Winona, Minn., has 230 rooms. It’s uncertain if he’ll open another hotel in the Eau Claire area.

The longtime hotel, originally a Holiday Inn, is expected to be razed over the winter, and a hospital groundbreaking is scheduled for spring. The cancer care location tentatively is set to open in fall 2017, and Marshfield Clinic will continue to provide cancer care services at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital until the transition. The new hospital is expected to open in 2018.

“We’re very excited about the new hospital, not only because it will be staffed by the Marshfield Clinic doctors, nurses and other associates our local patients have come to know and trust, but also because it gives us the chance to create even more good employment opportunities in the Chippewa Valley,” Turney said.

Marshfield Clinic employs the equivalent of 700 full-time employees, Murali said. Initial reports show the new hospital will create “hundreds of jobs.”

“It (also) is going to boost the economic activity of this place,” he said.

Before anything can happen, Marshfield Clinic officials need to finalize plans for the hospital and obtain the proper permits and approvals from City Hall. Ryan Petrie, an associate planner for the city, said, at the least, Marshfield Clinic will have to acquire a demolition permit, along with site plan approval from the Plan Commission.

“What they need really depends on what they plan to do,” said Petrie, who believes it will be late summer or early fall before Marshfield Clinic submits plans to the city.

Details to come

Murali said Marshfield Clinic Health System officials are in the process of determining the optimal size and scope for the new hospital and will share more information, including an anticipated construction budget, when available.

The new facility will enhance specialty services Marshfield Clinic Health System provides in the Chippewa Valley, including heart care; orthopedics and sports medicine; bariatric, general and plastic surgery; neurosurgery; ear, nose and throat; obstetrics and gynecology; vein care, pain management and pediatrics, Murali said.

In addition, the new hospital will be built to take advantage of green space, use environmentally sensitive building materials and methods, feature patient views of the Chippewa River, and include the latest technology in electronic record-keeping, communications and patient care, he said.

Dr. Randall Linton, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in northwestern Wisconsin, issued a short statement Friday about Marshfield Clinic’s announcement.

“The Chippewa Valley has a long history of providing exceptional health care to its residents, and Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire is proud to be part of that long and cherished tradition,” Linton said. “We look forward to bringing Mayo Clinic care to the residents of the Chippewa Valley for years to come.”

Officials at OakLeaf Surgical Hospital could not be reached for comment Friday.

Contact: 715-83-5838, christena.obrien@ecpc.com, @CTOBrien onTwitter